In Fine Forum?

Playoff season has reminded me that it's been ten years since the Lakers departed Inglewood for downtown. At the time, there was really no contest between the aged and not-so-fabulous Forum and the sparkling new Staples Center, one of the new breed of sports venues that wore its corporate pedigree un-self consciously. I guess it was inevitable. Downtown L.A. was in the process of building itself up as the kind of hip, heart-of-the-city downtown it had never been, and the Lakers would bring to it a seasonal but permanent glamour in the same way that the Oscars brought it to the Kodak Theater in refurbished Hollywood. Inglewood? We didn't really stand a chance. City officials made their pitch, but I suspect even if they had offered the Lakers free rent at the Forum forever, the team would have passed. The "City of Champions" banners that have decorated lampposts since the '80s stayed up, but they immediately started looking forlorn rather than affirmative. Inglewood does still have the Hollywood Park race track, but that's on schedule to disappear too, a victim of the economy and of the long- declining popularity of race tracks everywhere. Pretty soon we'll just have to be a city of something else.

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Though the Lakers left, the city still had the Forum, a circular Roman-style arena that at least visually was and is still pretty fabulous. Many locals, myself included, have a daily ritual of walking or jogging around the place, and its vast parking lot has long been a big meetup spot for motorcycle clubs and the like. It's got drama, if nothing else. The Forum was bought by the local aspiring megachurch Faithful Central Bible Church; the big question in 2000 was whether a church could successfully run a big entertainment venue when it wasn't actually holding services there on Sunday.

The answer ten years later is, not really. Faithful Central got the Forum for a relatively cheap price in 2000, but part of the deal was an arrangement with booking giant AEG--which also booked the Staples Center-- that pretty much locked the Forum out of getting the most popular acts and events coming through town. And from the beginning, the church struggled with a cash flow problem that depressed any ambition it may have had to transform the Forum and its modest legend into an economic hub for Inglewood itself (though I have to say, in the 33 years that the Lakers were here, Inglewood never seemed to capitalize on the potential that represented. The most significant and enduring economic development around the Forum is a Sizzler restaurant across the street). There is hope--theoretically. The new mega-development being planned for Hollywood Park once the track shuts down could lift the adjacent Forum's fortunes, though I'm not really sure how. My biggest fear is that the Forum will at some point be razed as a sacrifice to the gods of profit, or worse, to just breaking even. Then Inglewood will be poor in a way it's never had to imagine.

Image taken by Flickr user ibison4. It was used under a Creative Commons license.

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